ESPN spent most of Tuesday morning attempting to put out fires started by the face of the network, Stephen A. Smith.
On Monday’s edition of “First Take,” Smith was asked if it was good for Major League Baseball that Shohei Ohtani has become the sport’s number one attraction. His answer landed him in hot water.
“The fact that you got a foreign player that doesn’t speak English, that needs an interpreter — believe it or not — I think contributes to harming the game to some degree, when that’s your box office appeal,” Smith said. “It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys. And unfortunately, at this moment in time, that’s not the case.”
Ohtani is from Japan, and while he is not fluent, he can speak English. He also speaks Spanish.
“When you talk about an audience gravitating to the tube, or to the ballpark, to actually watch you, I don’t think it helps that the No. 1 face is a dude that needs an interpreter so you can understand what the hell he’s saying, in this country,” Smith said. “And that’s what I’m trying to say.”
Smith immediately came under fire on social media and issued an apology Monday evening.
On Tuesday’s edition of “First Take,” Smith opened the show discussing his comments, and profusely apologized.
“I’m a Black man. I religiously go off about minorities being marginalized in this nation… the reason I bring up my blackness is because of this,” Smith said. “On many occasions, when people have said something that is offensive in any way to the minority community, it’s not about how you feel, it’s about how they feel. “
“The reality of the situation is that you have Asians and Asian Americans out there that obviously were very very offended for what I had to say yesterday. And I just want to look into the camera and extend my apologies. That was not my intent at all.”
Smith went on to say that ESPN and Disney had nothing to do with his comments, taking full responsibility for the impact his words had.
“It was me. I said it. And the reality is, is that I was completely clueless as to the kind of impact this would have on the Asian and Asian American community… I welcome this conversation and I don’t have a problem with it… I don’t intend to hurt people like that,” Smith said. “That’s not who I am. If I have a problem with you, you know it… I don’t hide from it I let you know I’m coming and that wasn’t the case yesterday.”
One could assume the apology from Smith would be the end of the conversation — that the sports show would move on to the day’s sports topics — but ESPN wasn’t finished. In fact, it wasn’t close to the end of the conversation.
ESPN baseball reporter Jeff Passan was brought on to discuss Smith’s comments as well as Ohtani’s impact on the game, and he refused to let Smith off the hook.
“Shohei Ohtani came to the country at 23 years old. He left behind his family, he left behind his culture, he left behind his country,” Passan said. “He left behind everything he knows to go and pursue the American dream. He wanted to come here and be great. And he is the sort of person who this show, and who this network, and who this country should embrace. We are not the ones who should be trafficking in ignorance.”
— Miles Garrett (@MilesGarrettTV) July 13, 2021
Smith’s attempt to appease those offended by his comments on Ohtani wasn’t the end of a day filled with apologies from the highest-paid analyst at ESPN.
On the very same show in which Smith made his comments regarding Ohtani, he also managed to offend the entire country of Nigeria.
Following Team USA’s exhibition loss to the Nigerian basketball team on Saturday, Smith made it clear that the loss was unacceptable for USA Basketball, partly due to the lack of name recognition on the Nigerian roster.
“There’s no excuse to lose to Nigeria,” Smith said on ESPN before tweeting the clip out himself. “[To lose to] some dude Gabe Nnamdi, who goes by Gabe Vincent for the Miami Heat. Or Caleb Agada. Or Nma … however the hell you pronounce his name.”
This is exactly what needed to said about TEAM USA!!! pic.twitter.com/duH385AlwR
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) July 12, 2021
His comments were immediately condemned on social media, with many in the basketball community calling Smith out for mispronouncing the names of Nigerian players.
“As someone who has seen Mr. Smith’s daily grind, I have so much respect for my ESPN fam… But as a proud Nigerian-American, whose name gets mispronounced daily, we HAVE to do better. 𝘾𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙚𝙣𝙮𝙚 means God gives,” Nigerian-American basketball player Chiney Ogwumike said. “Our names have beautiful meaning & should be celebrated!”
As someone who has seen Mr. Smith’s daily grind, I have so much respect for my ESPN fam…
But as a proud Nigerian-American, whose name gets mispronounced daily, we HAVE to do better.
𝘾𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙚𝙣𝙮𝙚 means God gives. Our names have beautiful meaning & should be celebrated!🙏🏿 https://t.co/fvkaDHBYKF
— Chiney Ogwumike (@chiney) July 12, 2021
“A one-minute clip with no basketball analysis and pure disrespect to the names of our culture,” Nigeria basketball said on Twitter. “Do better please [Stephen A. Smith]. This is low, even for you.”
A one minute clip with no basketball analysis and pure disrespect to the names of our culture.
— D’Tigers | Nigeria Basketball (@NigeriaBasket) July 12, 2021
“How I spoke about the Nigerian basketball team hurt people as well,” Smith said in an apology posted to Twitter. “So, it doesn’t matter what my opinion was or my intentions were. What matters, is that I messed up … I messed up and I hurt people with my words. And for that, I apologize.”
I had to start off today’s show by apologizing to the Asian and Nigerian communities. pic.twitter.com/m2Jlu9UQxH
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) July 13, 2021
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to [email protected]
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